Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Oh, the old evil duplicates thing

Any superhero RPG

So for various reasons I was thinking about evil duplicates, including an evil duplicates adventure I wrote but that never saw light. (Possibly the publisher was just being kind to buy it; I was exceedingly desperate. On the other hand, "kindness" to me tops out at fifty bucks. So probably it was shakeups and then the adventure wasn't useful. I digress.)

Evil duplicates are a lovely way to point up the differences between the characters and the bad guys: they are the characters who made different choices. So, with that in mind as an overall reason, here are as many ideas for evil duplicates that I can think of after too many beers.

(I will try to organize these so less specific terms come after more specific terms.)

  1. Look, It's Just A Costume Get a bunch of people with roughly the same powers, dress'em in the heroes' costumes, and call them duplicates. It can be kind of interesting to see the changes that can be wrung on various powers. “What, being superb at throwing things makes you a pretty good archer?” (During Bendis' New Avengers run.)
  2. The Imperfect Clone On the one hand, this can give you Bizarro. On the other, it can be a pretty deep look into what makes the heroes tick.
  3. Bad Robot! These are robot duplicates but they've been programmed for EEEE-vil.
  4. Mirror Image Some magic device makes copies of the heroes, but evil copies.
  5. One Bad Day The Bad Heroes are from an alternate timeline where where the awful origin event was twisted, or from an alternate future where Something Bad has happened (Lois Love Interest died, for example).
  6. From The Bad Place. The duplicates are from the alternate dimension where everyone is the same, but the switch is turned to EVIL. (Earth 3 and the Crime Syndicate is the first one that comes to mind, but it's been done elsewhere, like the episode of Star Trek called “Mirror Image”.)
  7. Tweedledum, Tweedledee If all the heroes got their powers in the same incident, it's possible to have an alternate incident where things didn't go so well. I think of this as Batma and the Wrath writ for a group.

A slightly different version: Now I Have The Power The bad guy can take the hero's powers (or heroes' powers) and put them in someone else. This is technically power theft but maybe it just copies the powers, through Amazo's special doubletalk.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Happy anniversary to my wife!

Any Superhero

With today being my 30th wedding anniversary, I'm inspired to provide some adventure seeds (or, where there's a bit more, adventure sprouts) related to anniversaries. So, a quick d6 worth:

  1. A bad supervillain has escaped from prison and the heroes have to find him. Why today of all days? It's a significant wedding anniversary. Now, maybe it's sweet: one of them is dying and this is the last time (significant) time they can be together. Maybe it's sour: they're divorced, and this is the time when he wants her to remember him, and that he has power over her. But either way, the heroes figure it out and have to decide what side they're on.
  2. One of the heroes has an anniversary today, and intends to get to his/her/their/its spouse, but things keep interfering: an earthquake, which traps some miners, and causes a prison break, and there are fires, and... Maybe other heroes try to help so that the hero can have just some time. Or maybe one of the escaped prisoners is an archfoe who knows all the heroes' secrets and makes a beeline for the spouse.
  3. One hero (maybe a PC) is getting married, so it's time for the bachelor or bachelorette party. A superhero event like this? There will probably be shenanigans (tip of the hat to Gail Simone for that term and the idea!)

    How do the other heroes in the party deal with or even prevent the shenanigans while helping the chauffeur, whose wedding anniversary it is, but he/she/they has to work. The shenanigans probably involve a villain who wants to profess love, because that's thematically appropriate, so maybe the heroes have to face off the bad guy who wants to confess that he's always loved the bride, or the villain coming out of the closet and he's always loved the groom, or some villain who is re-enacting another villain's plan to show the object-of-obsession that it can be done right.

  4. The heroes might think everything's on the up-and-up as they prepare for their own anniversaries, but details slowly start to reveal that their true love, retirement, and marriages are all part of a mental illusion. (Tip of the hat to Alan Moore, because this is mostly "For The Man Who Has Everything.")
  5. The North Star is a fabulous gem and Rick Harper is going to give it to his wife as part of their anniversary. The North Star only comes out of the vault on special occasions like this, so several people have lined up crews to steal it...and there's a possibility that Harper hired at least one of them in order to commit insurance fraud.
  6. "Twoo wuv..." can bring the dead back to life, if their love was pure. As zombies, I'm afraid.

    A candidate for the title of Earth's Eldritchiest has brought someone back to life (because they were only mostly dead), but the knock on effect of the spell travels throughout the world: Anyone whose love was pure is dragged from death so that they can be with their loved ones.

    • If you've only been dead half an hour, it works fine.
    • If you've been dead months or years, you are a reanimated shambling monster with one goal: to kill your beloved so they can join you in death.

    The heroes most likely notice it because one of them is dating a widow or widower, and the zombie is noticeable.

    I know, you're thinking, "Shoot'em in the head!" But disassembling the zombie doesn't work; they just put themselves back together and try again. No, the spell has to be reversed, which means finding out which candidate cast it, and convincing them to undo it...which might well kill the person they resurrected in the first place.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020


Okay, the recent format change has made this platform very difficult to use. Back to Dreamwidth it is. (Can you have multiple blogs under one account there, or do you need a separate account for each blog?)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

A one-shot for ICONS


My wife is out of town for the night, so I was going to run a one-shot of Icons but that fell through. Still, here's the rough outline of what I would have run.

Design goals: It's a one-shot, it's simple, it uses minions for the first fight so that new players have something to try, and it uses only villains from Icons: The Assembled Edition.

Because of that, if you want to run it in another implied universe, you'll have to either create Ultra-Mind, Warbride, and Speed Demon or fill in the roles with an equivalent.

Usual caveat: I've never run this, I haven't tried it, it's never met actual players.

The Copycat Technology

What's the Premise?

Ultra-Mind wants to make his life-support body also wants to include powers so that he might properly subjugate people as part of his plan to make more evolved humans. Superheroes keep stopping him, so he clearly needs more abilities. He needs to get supers in place to copy and then put the copied powers in machines. So he has set up the copying technology in banks and has arranged for bank robberies. Clues lead to a second location, where robots with copied powers are waiting.

1: Bank Shots

For each player, there is a bank robbery. The robberies are simultaneous and are being committed by teams of five: four henchmen in each bank (use the Henchman archetype, pg 191), commanded by a boss (use the Soldier archetype, pg 192), wearing a bomb vest. In each case, the plan is this: two stand guard over hostages, one fetches actual money, and the Boss and a henchman take the manager into the safety deposit room, to get one particular safety deposit box’s contents.

For the henchmen, use the Minion rule (pg 42), but the boss is treated like normal.

If you have an ongoing campaign, each boss can have a personal agenda and can double-cross the mysterious stranger who hired him, but for a one-shot, that just adds time. Let each player have the confrontation with the boss, but for a one-shot, move to the investigation afterwards.

Start with the heroes on the scene. There are a couple of ways they might be there:

  • They’re actually hostages.
  • They have been monitoring the police.
  • They have been asked by the police.
  • They were in the area.

As a GM, rotate through each player in turn, but they’re all in different banks. When things go pear-shaped, the henchmen will first threaten the hostages, then the boss will threaten to blow up the place with the vest.

Although the bullets in the guns are real, the bomb in the vest is fake (PCs can’t easily tell; X-Ray vision won’t show it but Super-Smell might). The vest kills whomever is wearing it but probably no one else.

2: Investigation

Players investigating can discover the following:

  • The henchmen’s boss was hired by a “mysterious stranger” but convinced of bona fides. Time and date were dictated but so long as they provided the papers in the safety deposit boxes, they could keep everything else. (If a PC uses Telepathy or Postcognition on the boss character, they could learn about the mysterious stranger. A character might recognize Warbride, but the action is out of character for Warbride; perhaps she is working for someone else?)
  • The safety deposit boxes each contain papers that reveal shell corporations. (Bonus if someone has the Law or Business specialties.)
  • Each bank had just had a new security system installed by JomCross Security Inc, a new company that had convinced various banks to try out their security system for free.
    • Some characters will be aware that Jommy Cross is the main character in the A. E. Van Vogt novel SLAN.
  • If someone investigates the “new security system” it clearly scans the interior of the bank and sends the information somewhere. (Pyramid test to figure out where; insert tech doubletalk if needed, but it’s the JomCross Security office.)

The address for the shell corporations and JomCross Security is the same, and it’s in town.


If the player characters lose to the henchmen and don’t see the shell corporation papers and don’t discover about the security system, the bank manager reveals to the hero involved that “it was a mistake putting in the new security system! It didn’t neutralize their guns at all!”

3: In The Office

The office of JomCross Security is on the second-highest floor of a skyscraper. It takes up the entire floor.

(If they investigate, the top floor is owned by Evolution Investments, a private company about which little is known. It is also a front for Ultra-Mind.)

The secretary at the front desk is a gum-snapping 1940s stereotype come to life. She answers the phone, types desultorily on her keyboard, and stares at her cellphone. As if she’s waiting for something. A sign on the door behind her says M. O'Graf.

She is polite to the heroes. She knows nothing but is willing to summon Mr. O’Graf from his office. She does want to know the character names, so she can tell Mr. O’Graf who he’s going to see. She tries very hard to get names, but will eventually acquiesce if the players don’t want to give names.

Robots come out of O'Graf's office, one for each PC. The robots are dressed like the PCs, and by the time the players look back at the secretary, they see her standing outside the office, revealed as Warbride. She touches her cellphone, and metal walls slide over the glass office front.

If the players do something that makes it difficult to put her out of the office, either give a Determination point, or have her not leave: she stays in the office. Her job now is to keep the players in the fight: if they leave, they have to deal with her, and dealing with her takes long enough that the robot duplicates will catch up.

Again, the PCs will probably have to fight, but it isn't essential; for example, a power like Teleport (portal) will certainly get them out. If that happens, you'll have to wing it.

The robot duplicates have copies of their powers, including Extras and Limitations. They do not have copies of Qualities, or secret information about the heroes, or copies of specialties.

  • If the heroes win, the back office contains an elevator to the upstairs office.
  • If the heroes lose, they regain consciousness upstairs so that Ultra-Mind can gloat at them.

4: End-Game

Now that he has proved the viability of his power-copying technology and its ultracells, he plans to move the cells into his life-support body and be physically evolved as well as mentally evolved.

If the PCs defeated or escaped the robot duplicates...

Ultra-Mind monologues about what he was doing. Clearly (he says) the PCs have some other edge he has not taken into account&mdash/he must start again. In the meantime, Warbride will deal with them while he escapes!

Speed Demon appears. “You need to be transported?”

Warbride says, “This activates the clause where you pay me double.”

Big fight.

If the PCs lost to the robot duplicates...

The PCs wake in the offices of “Evolution Investments” without powers. They are wearing “power suckers” that neutralize their powers, rather than copy them. The power suckers are locked; it’s a difficulty 10 task to unlock and remove your own power sucker but only a difficulty 8 task to unlock someone else’s power sucker. (Ultra-Mind doesn’t worry much about locks; All-Star never used locks!)

In this case, Speed Demon probably doesn’t get called, but Ultra-Mind has the powers of one PC because the ultracells have been installed. (Pick a PC or roll randomly.)

Big fight, I presume.

Friday, July 17, 2020

An experiment with a TiddlyWiki

Icons, M&M

As an experiment, I have started putting the Strange City background in a TiddlyWiki, at: http://jhmcmullen.tiddlyspot.com/. Feel free to look at it there, although you can't get it in a neat package.

I want to use the setting for something on-going (The Flea Family), and the PDF article just got outdated too quickly as I added things. So I'm trying this.

If that's not the correct address, it might be http://jhmcmullen.tiddlyspot.com/index.html.

TiddlySpot is not up-to-date with the latest version of TiddlyWiki, nor is it secure, but it should be adequate for a small personal wiki.

If you can't see it, or if there's a problem, let me know so that I can try to fix it or go looking for a different answer.

Friday, July 10, 2020



So I'm doing the RPG Adventure Writer course in July (I'm about five days behind, thank you very much) and it costs money if you want to do something other than D&D5E and DM's Guild, so that's what I'm doing.

The concept is, uh, weird, but it might make a nice one-shot.

You're a group of first-level characters and you've just come back from the wars or hanging around with military service; the point is, you're back or conceivably new to the area.

And a tavern owner approaches you; the tavern owner is definitely just back, and he has discovered what I'm about to tell you, and doesn't know where to turn. His tavern has been overrun with Mysterious Strangers, who have sent everyone of an adventuring nature off to far-off lands. He's got no regulars, his bar staff have disappeared and replaced with simpletons, and they won't let him in.

Various avenues of investigation, but the PCs eventually learn that the Mysterious Strangers are members of a hive organism and they've taken over the tavern. Deep under the tavern, the queen is churning out Mysterious Strangers, workers (who look like barmaids), and owls (drones). Deeper down there are warriors, wizard-like things, and so on. They look like people, but they're something else....

Having found this out, the PCs must go in, possibly to rescue the tavern keeper and his family.

Followup about characters and roles

Any superhero

Later: Other thoughts

Thinking about it, and possibly this is too much about fiction and not about roleplaying, every character fulfils at least one role:

  • plot, where they provide a necessary service, item, or obstacle
  • setting, where they reinforce some aspect of the environment; this tends to be more about your choice of characters — you choose to use a cowboy to emphasize that the adventure takes place in rural Texas, or a hipster to display that we're in the trendy subcultures of New York
  • emotional, where they draw out some emotional aspect of the character or conflict — someone who will be directly affected by the villain's evil plan, for example
  • pacing, which is closely related to "emotional," above, but I admit that sometimes I have put in a character who will just be funny or tear-jerking or whatever just to change the mood at the table and speed things up or slow things down

(I've also thrown characters in because I've just had too much fun roleplaying them, like a certain character's mother kept showing up. Sometimes it pays off; she turned out to have had a dalliance with the Joker, and the hero turned out to be the Joker's kid, but it came from me having fun having her complain about his (at that point unnamed) father.)

Every character has this mechanical function, which is a union of one or more of those roles, often summarized with a job title, and a relationship to each character. Sometimes the relationship is really nebulous: "person in the crowd" or "bystander." Sometimes it's stronger and should inform the PC's actions: "love interest" or "arch-foe" or "guy who thinks he's the arch-foe but he really isn't."

Maybe you can more quickly define characters by specifying the mechanical role and the relationship. If you say a character is a "tech guru" and "friend" you've just opened up two sets of possibilities: One is that there's a place to go for plot coupons ("Where are we going to find a chronosynclastic infundibulator?" "Jeanine might have one!"), and the other is that range of story possibilities opened by the friend role: hostage, used as leverage by villains, possible betrayal for good or bad reasons, the friend comes to them because of blackmail (I'm sure it's deepfake ransomware), and so on.

I'll have to think about that one some more to see if it's a useful distinction or not. (I frequently make distinctions that aren't actually useful at the table.)

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Tropes for superhero campaigns

Any Superhero

I'm in the process of assembling a campaign in M&M which will be a bog-standard superhero campaign. And part of it is that I have to come up with a metric fecal tonne of NPCs and their relationships to the characters....and I'm only coming up with the starting NPCs; the rest will be developed in play. The non-standard part here is that there are three different campaign levels because it's troupe play. So for each player there are three circles for them to move in: low-level, mid-level, and high. Because I'm starting with M&M, you can think of them as PL8, PL10, and PL12, but you could also think of it as neighbourhood, city, and global level.

Obviously, the characters can cross over. In my head, I think of it as writing the Batman family: some adventures deal with Robin; others deal with Nightwing or Batgirl; and yet others deal with Batman in either city mode or godglobal mode.

That's a fair bit to come up with, even if the troupe characters can mix and match.

So I asked the fine people at the Facebook group World of Supers for their favourite NPCs or tropes, and I'm hoping to use them directly or reverse-engineer them into classes that I can then use to build an instance of a campaign.

Some comic book things won't translate. This is a group activity, after all, and a set of stories about the brooding loner who's all alone and doesn't have anyone (and did I mention loner?) won't really work. But there are a lot of useful bits we can use, harvested from comics and campaigns.

Because of where my head is at these days, I'm thinking of them more in terms of what story possibilities they open up. That's not the only way to look at them, and in fact it's not a way I've looked at it in the past. But essentially, this is my version of Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations for superhero campaigns. (If you want the Polti list, Wikipedia has a reasonable summary.)

Obviously, in comics, characters can fill several roles, but I'm just starting to think of it this way, so I'm not going to stress if I only pick one.

In a sense, I'm looking for plot engines: roles that generate stories.

A role for each identity
A character who has one attitude to the public identity and another to the secret identity. Lois Lane for much of her history disdained Clark Kent but adored Superman; Aunt May loved Peter Parker but was afraid of Spider-Man. I feel like this is not so much a role you'd give an NPC but a layer you'd add to them, because really this is a way of pointing up the Secret ID. Examples: Lois Lane, Flash Thompson
Aide & assistant
Providing necessary assistance for lots of different things, and occasional counselling. Steve Kenson suggested Icons A to Z: Support, which has a number of roles around the headquarters, such as Handyman, Mechanic, and Pilot. They are more specialized versions of this (well, maybe not Handyman). Mechanically, they provide aid in some way; in a story sense, they usually provide commentary, such as "Go get'em" or "Are you sure this is a good thing to do?" or subtle nudging, such as "Perhaps if you investigated the Senator's parents; I find that evil is a fruit that does not often stray far from the root." Examples: Alfred, Jarvis, Wintergreen
Attractive crook
Love interest who does bad things but not too bad Examples: Catwoman, Black Cat
Crook who might not be reformed
The crook who looks like he's gone straight, but there's some question about it. Examples: Most "reformed" Batman villains; Lex Luthor; Norman Osborne after leaving the asylum (again)
Crook trying to go straight
This is slightly different: a crook with a good heart but he's always in danger of relapsing. In one case, we know that the heart is good but the situation might be bad; in the other we don't know the heart. And of course many crooks pass through this until we know that their motives are good. Examples: Sandman in Spider-Man
Cross Purposes
Usually someone acting against the hero but for good reasons; the character might act for the hero if convinced Examples: Amanda Waller
Demanding Overlord
The character who expects actions of the hero that interfere with hero-ing, such as the boss or sometimes the insistent love-interest. Though some characters have this written right into their role (when JJJ became Peter's market, it happened) it can also be something you layer on to an existing NPC Examples: J. Jonah Jameson, Gwen Stacy, Perry White
Duelling love interests
There are situations where the hero has one love interest in hero identity and another in secret identity and this challenges fidelity or obligations. Examples: Spider-Man with Mary Jane and the Black Cat
Friend on the inside
Someone in a position to help the hero, but who might be forced to act against them. Examples: Commissioner Gordon
Unlike the millstone, this character is associated with the hero identity, so is often used by villains to blackmail the hero in hero identity. Examples: Robin, Rick Jones
Mad Inventor
Generally a source of things to fight, where we deal with his or her latest scheme gone wrong. Good intentions, bad follow-through. Examples: Emil Hamilton
Your traditional dependant NPC, such as Aunt May, who provides a responsibility but no obvious benefits; the millstone is usually associated with the private/normal identity. If a character has obligations to someone but no apparent benefit, you probably have a millstone (most love interests as written are millstones). In these cases the benefit is just notional — "Oh, the shock will kill Aunt May" or "She's my fiancee!" You alleviate this by giving them some kind of benefit to the hero, either emotionally or tactically. Often you can do this by revealing the secret identity to them. Examples: Aunt May, Julie Madison
Nosy parker
Mostly obsolete now, but a staple in the Silver Age: the character whose investigations threaten to expose the hero's secret Examples: Lois Lane, Vicki Vale
The character who is competing with our hero, in either identity; a beginning or inept character is more often a Wannabe Examples: Various reporters
Villain with a Problem
This is the character who is really a nice (or acceptable) person, but when something happens, they become a villain. Examples: Man-Bat, the Lizard, Carol Ferris
Wannabe Hero
Like a rival, but less effective or sometimes even a supervillain/problem of the week. Examples: Frog-man, Man-Bat

Other ideas?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

An odd idea


There's an eruv bounding about four square miles of Manhattan. If I understand correctly (and I might not; apologies if I don't), it's a thin wire that symbolically separates "public" from "private" for Orthodox Jews, so that they can behave more or less normally on the Sabbath. That means that they can do things that would normally be considered work...like carrying things.

But it's not just Manhattan...other cities have eruvim. Cities like St. Louis, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, and more.

New York has rules, such as the maximum thickness of the wire is a quarter-inch, and it must be at least fifteen feet above the ground.

It's inspected by rabbis every Thursday night, presumably so they have daylight Friday to fix it, if necessary. And Manhattan's costs about $100,000 a year to maintain.

Do they ever get broken in superhero fights? Especially fights on a Friday night? Are there Orthodox Jewish superheroes who protect the eruv because keeping all those people inside on the Sabbath has economic consequences? Do tech whiz superheroes invent stronger materials to compose the eruv? If it costs too much for the eruv to be replaced, do they quit?

Thoughts on a Wednesday afternoon. I have no answers, but you could probably make a scenario out of bad consequences.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Villains for the Family

While I'm waiting for the player to respond, let's think in general terms about villains.

I'm going to use Strange City as a setting, and I've established that villains exist in about a twenty:one ratio with heroes. While I think arch-villains should probably be specific to the hero and so I'm not going to create them yet, I can list a couple of tropes that I want to use or subvert.

The villain K-Osprey already exists and functions as my Joker analogue. I doubt he's specific to the OG hero, but certainly Adult Sidekick will know of K-Osprey aka Chaos-Prey aka KOS-Pray.

I probably want to do something with reformed villains, both those who have failed to reform and those who succeeded. Actually, making the Police Commissioner a former villain might be interesting. Because that isn't common knowledge (I only just thought of it), I could slide it in as ancient history or have it as ad adventure thread in itself.

(It might be an adventure thread: I'm sure that Revived Mystery Man would think that the reformed villain is only faking and should be put to death.)

The villain who has lapsed again... maybe someone with a kind of telekinesis such that locks can't actually stay shut around him or her? Bullet-proof, but regardless of intention, nothing stays locked if the character touches it. But the character is guilty of looking wrong and so gets arrested on a regular basis. And, of course, even if he or she works for a company, he or she cannot work late and lock up. Just can't; the lock comes undone.

Given that, how do you make money? Well, if money problems come along, you steal it. More accurately, you reach into the bin and take it because they've forgotten tho latch the ATM ((again). (Heh. A real job for that person involves working in an area without any actual cash, like in an investment firm.)